Before hearing Deathhammer by Asphyx a few years ago, I didn’t think that death/doom was something that I wanted or needed in my life. Its combination of crushing heaviness and blistering extremity immediately grabbed me. I love that album so much that I named one of my favorite workouts after it. “Deathhammer” is what happens when I go out to my garage, put the title track on repeat, and beat a giant tire with a 20-pound sledge until I can no longer breathe.1 You can imagine my glee upon finding out that my latest promo counts the mighty Dutch juggernaut among its primary influences.
Bicéfalo is the second album from Spanish power trio Sönambula and the brainchild of vocalist and guitarist Rapha Decline. Mr. Decline has been active in the Spanish metal scene since the early 90’s, contributing guitars, vocals or both to many different projects and genres along the way. As far as I can tell, this is the first of his outlets to incorporate doom elements, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to Bicéfalo. Rapha writes thick, juicy Candlemass riffs, and his leads are a mixture of atonal squeals and chaotic bluesy solos. While certainly death/doom, this album swims mostly in the doom end of the pool and musically speaking, the water is fine.
“Huesos” opens with a buzzing bass solo from Errapel Kepa, then moves into a crushing doom riff before launching into a death metal verse. It then slows to a crawl, adds another bass solo, and lurches on with a monstrous chug making it the best blend of doom and death on here and a true highlight. On “Nostromo,” the band move in and out of an excellent groovy riff that makes one side of my face involuntarily form the Rocky Balboa snarl every time it appears. The album features a pleasingly old school production with the intro to opener “Mutación Sintética” forcing me to think that I’ve started a Sabbath or Candlemass album by mistake. The band goes for a sprawling instrumental jam on “Detritus,” and it’s just as satisfying as my grandma’s homemade stuff, only instead of seeds and berry innards, it consists of bits of human bone suspended in sludge. The song pummels with riff after doomy riff before closing out with a fantastic Iommian solo. It’s my favorite song here, but that’s not necessarily a good sign.
Vocally, Rapha has a monotone belching bark, and coupled with the nearly uniform cadence he uses throughout the majority of the album, said belching bark becomes briskly burdensome. The aforementioned “Detritus” shows what the band can do when the music is unencumbered by the vocals, and that makes the rest of the album a frustrating listen. Every song here keeps my head banging with an abundance of doom riffs, but I can’t help but wonder what they would sound like with vocals that matched their quality. There’s also a bit of a pacing problem here. There are no straight up burners here like one can find on other death/doom classics. Without a little more death to balance it’s doom, the songs have a tendency to blend together. Single-mindedness of voice and tempo is Bicéfalo’s downfall, making a title that translates as “two-headed” sadly ironic.
In the promo, Sönambula state that they hope Bicéfalo will remind listeners of Asphyx, Autopsy, and Entombed, and of the albums those bands released in the early 90s. While they may have nailed the sound of that era, the vocals and songwriting pale when compared to the output of those giants. This was a tough one for me to score. It has serious flaws, but they couldn’t keep me from enjoying each play-through. It’s worth a listen if you’re a doom aficionado, but the lack of quality death elements will leave most wanting more.